Preached September 12th, 2010
St. Matthew 6:24–34
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today on the Fifteen Sunday after Trinity we continue with the third aspect of the “true and laudable service” that we are bound to render unto God. We have already spoken of Love and Holiness or Purity, and today we take up the matter of Singleness of Heart, an idea summarized very neatly in the opening line of our Gospel lesson for today, Matthew 6:24a No man can serve two masters: This is the essence of the matter of singleness of heart.
Wherever you get your news, be it the television, the newspaper, or the Internet, you cannot have escaped the idea that we live in an uncertain period of history. The old, well defined certainties of life seem to have vanished away like smoke. Gone are the days when the son inherited the family business or farm, if possible, and was most fortunate when that could happen. Today very few sons want to inherit the family business or the farm, and the old, stable ways are passing away quite rapidly.
The common advice to anyone trying to make career decisions in such an uncertain environment is to “keep your options open,” that is, to put off making any commitments as long as possible. What looks good today may not look so good tomorrow. There may be a better offer tomorrow if you will just wait to see. Don’t commit to anything if you can avoid it.
The reason for this thinking is fairly simple. In this great horse race that is life, you do not want to bet on a losing horse. You want to delay your bet until you are assured of picking a winner, preferably after the horse has crossed the finish line. Of course, we cannot actually do this last, but that is the way the reasoning goes. To be a success in life, you must pick a winner. We see this all the time in political elections when large donors make contributions to both candidates. That way they are assured that they will have backed the winner, no matter who wins. In our individual lives, we cannot really do this.
St. Paul was not in the least bit unclear about whom it was that he would serve. He is very clear at all times about where his heart lay, where his sense of obedience was to be found, how his life was oriented. He wanted everyone to see this, that they may be similarly inspired to a single–minded life of service to God. This is evident in the very beginning words of our Epistle lesson when he says, Galatians 6:11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. He speaks of the large effort, clearly made by his own hand, showing his large personal commitment to God for them. This is not a work that he could later deny if that would be convenient, this is not a work made with the use of a scribe taking dictation, but rather it is the personal effort of Paul, the servant of Christ, made by personal work and at personal risk. It is done because Paul is entirely clear about who it is that he serves.
There were many in that time who saw the Cross as a badge of shame, of dishonor. They thought that the “safe thing to do” was to conform to traditional Judaism, to practice circumcision and various other Jewish rites. St. Paul is telling the Galatians that they cannot pretend to be Jews and be real Christians at the same time. If they are Christians, they are freed from the Jewish rules and rites, and must act accordingly. They were fearful of being marked as separate, different, from the Jewish community from which they had come. They had to come to an understanding that they were indeed different, new creatures, cut off from the old life and now made new in Christ Jesus, and that the old life truly has no claim on them now. This is not an easy lesson; in fact it is a very hard lesson. It is hard to realize that in our new life in Christ we are truly embarking on a life cut away from the previous life, a life that now proceeds each days simply by faith alone.
The prejudice of today is no longer Jewish demands for circumcision. Rather it is the secular world demanding indifference, sometimes called “tolerance.” While this is a different situation in some respects, it is exactly the same in others. The challenge for the Christian is exactly the same, to embark on a new life, a life of faith completely separated from the old life in every way and to do it again every day. The indifference of the world attacks today just as it did 2000 years ago.
Let me read again the latter part of the lesson: Galatians 6:15-17 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
First St. Paul says that nothing that either the Jew or Gentile can bring is of any value to salvation, but rather only the man made new in Christ Jesus; that is all that matters for salvation. To all those who live according to this way of life, St. Paul gives his apostolic blessing, describing them as the “Israel of God” which means those destined for salvation. The willingness and ability to persevere with single-minded intention is to earn the heavenly reward.
Then he turns to a statement about himself, one that bears several interpretations. He says, “let no man trouble me ….”
We may take this that St. Paul is saying, “Leave me alone. I have worked long and hard for your sakes. Don’t add more trouble for me now by your quarrels and disputes. Have pity on me.” That is one way to interpret the statement.
We may also take this that St. Paul is saying, “Leave me alone. Stop resisting my authority. I have shown you my credentials, and in my body you see the wounds I have suffered as an Apostle. Show me the appropriate reverence.” That is a second possible interpretation.
Finally, we may understand this as St. Paul saying, “Leave me alone. I have no more to say to you folks. I have done my part, I have borne my scars, and now it is up to you. Anything further is a waste of your time and mine.”
In discussing the Epistle lesson, one of the things I mentioned was the need to step out in new life every day in blind faith, completely cut away from the old life of the world that had come before, and how very hard this is to do. The only way this is possible is to have complete trust, an undivided trust just as we have an undivided purpose to serve God.
It is quite clear that we cannot serve with an undivided heart and mind if we doubt, but it is also true that we cannot really trust unless we truly serve with a single mind. Man has only one heart, and if it is filled with worldly concerns, there will be no room left for God. Faith and anxiety cannot be roommates. One will cast the other out. Either we will depend upon God, or we will not. If we truly depend upon God, then there is no room for anxiety; if we choose not to depend on God, there is no room for faith. There is definitely a choice to be made.
The power of God is the first great reason for trusting in Him. It is God who provides for the needs of all of His creatures. It was God who has made us, and not the other way around. It is God who provides for our needs for food and clothing. Our complete helplessness points out the futility of anything other than to trust in God, as Scripture says Matthew 6:27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
Going back a verse, we read in Matthew 6:26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? The birds are entirely satisfied with the provisions made for them by God, and God never fails to provide for them. God also clothes the grass of the field in such grandeur for its brief existence. God is much closer to us. He is our Heavenly Father, who sent His Son to die for us. Will he not do much, much more for us men? To fail to acknowledge this it to be as the heathen who know not God nor his relation to us. We do know our Heavenly Father, and better yet, He knows us and our needs.
Finally, we have a promise in the closing words of the Gospel lesson, Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. If we will attend to the things of the soul, God our Father will provide for all of our other needs. That is what St. Matthew tells us in these closing words of the lesson. Our part is to put our first priority on the things eternal. This is to be the focus of our affections, our energies, our time and effort. Those who make God their one care will have no other.
Thus single-mindedness of purpose and trust are tightly tied together in service of singleness of heart. This is difficult in our modern world, but it remains a necessity never the less.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.